Sharon Liu on directing a posthumously-released animated music video for the one and only Nina Simone
Nina Simone’s Colour Is A Beautiful Thing was originally recorded in 1982 for a small French label, but has only been sporadically available, until now.
- 9 April 2020
- Jyni Ong
- Reading Time
- 3 minutes
As an animator, it’s an honour to be asked to direct a music video, and an even greater one to be asked to direct a video for an icon, someone who’s dead, someone like… Nina Simone? This was the invitation extended out to Sharon Liu, a London-based animation director and illustrator specialising in handcrafted techniques. Occasionally a visiting lecturer on several undergraduate animation courses across the country – including Kingston School of Art and the University for the Creative Arts – Sharon also possesses an impressive list of commercial credentials.
She was lead background artist on Channel 4’s new animation of The Tiger Who Came To Tea, and created a charcoal animation using ash salvaged from Glasgow’s Mackintosh Building fire back in 2015 to raise money for its rebuild. In another notable creative feat, last year, she art directed the official music video for another music icon, Prince. Art directing the near-four-minute short to Holly Rock, a track recorded back in April 1985 the same week as Kiss, it’s safe to say that Sharon is no stranger to the creative pressures of visually expressing the sounds of great artists.
Going back to Sharon’s roots in the medium, however, her thriving career actually began during life drawing classes. “Back when I was a student,” she tells It’s Nice That, “I was very interested in life drawing. One day, I had an idea which involved my drawing of the model, drawing herself onto the canvas instead of me, and I decided to make the idea happen using animation.” From there, Sharon realised animation was the thing for her.
When asked to direct the animated video for Nina Simone’s Colour Is A Beautiful Thing, Sharon embraced the project with the honour of staying true to Nina’s soulful tones. Originally recorded in 1982, soon after Simone moved to Paris, an LP was recorded for a small French label but has only been sporadically available ever since. Titled Fodder On My Wings, the lesser-known album was recently reissued earlier this month on 3 April 2020 and is now available for the first time as a digital release, as well as through CD and LP.
“It was a completely open brief,” says Sharon on the project, “the record label were looking for something playful and elegant,” and the animation director certainly delivered that and more. The label had seen a previous film of Sharon’s titled Geronimo! and liked the crafty playfulness of the watercolour animation. With this in mind, Sharon proceeded to evoke a similar tone with Colour Is A Beautiful Thing, drawing on the positive energy of the song. “I just let the music take me where I thought the visuals should go,” she adds on the intuitive moment.
“In terms of the shapes and colours, one particular influence was Matisse’s cut-outs,” Sharon adds. The challenge with that was keeping Nina’s image recognisable amongst the highly stylised cut-outs, while also giving the design an edge. The result is a beautiful whir of colour and fluid lines, gliding into and among each other as Nina’s joyful voice sings out. “I really hope this video can bring everyone a bit of positive energy,” Sharon concludes, subsequently hinting to “lots of similar music-related projects” that are soon to be released. And with that, we can’t wait to see what she does next.
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.